The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the lay claim to their baptismal call to participate in the Church. Documents such as The Church in the Modern World and On the Apostalate of the Laity pointed to the absolutely essential role of lay persons. “(The laity’s) action within Church communities is so necessary that without it the apostolate of the pastors will frequently be unable to obtain its full effect.” (On the Apostolate of the Laity, 10)
In this same document, Vatican II called for the formation of councils. “In dioceses, as far as possible, councils should be set up to assist the Church’s apostolic work. ...Such councils should be established too, if possible, at parochial, inter-parochial, inter-diocesan levels, and also on the national and international planes.” (On the Apostolate of the Laity, 26) While Church Law had mandated Church councils to oversee the finances of parishes, little had been said about councils to oversee pastoral life. In fact, advisory committees were in place even before Vatican II, but their function was generally to organize parish activities, do fund raising, offer the pastor advice or give him approval for expenditures or major changes in the operation of the parish. Formal parish councils evolved from these earlier Church committees, but often with a lack of clarity about their purpose and tasks. Not infrequently, there was a name change from “committee” to “council” but little change in how these groups functioned. Canon Law gave some norms for diocesan pastoral councils, and these terms may be applied to parish pastoral councils as well. “A pastoral council is to be constituted which under the authority of the bishop (pastor) investigates, considers, and proposes practical conclusions about those things which pertain to the pastoral works of the diocese.” (Canon 511)
The history of parish pastoral councils in the Diocese of Pittsburgh began shortly after the Second Vatican Council, with an attempt to engage laity in some form of collaboration in building up the Body of Christ. In many places, this resulted in a consultative body known as a parish council. The role of the parish council varied, but in most cases the council served to coordinate ministries and lead activities. Gradually, some of these groups evolved into pastoral councils, looking at the mission of the parish and planning ways to initiate or strengthen whatever was needed to fulfill that mission.
-Brief History of Parish Pastoral Councils (One Body, One Mission-The Parish Pastoral Council Guidelines of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, 2)
At St. Bernard Parish, we are implementing the vision for pastoral councils set by the diocese. Through a process of prayer and discernment, the Holy Spirit called forth twelve parishioners to assist our pastor and parish staff in guiding our community to realize our mission statement. The members of St. Bernard Pastoral Council are:
Pastoral Council Members
Kimberly M. Harris